|Looney Tunes: Back in Action|
|Directed by||Joe Dante|
|Written by||Larry Doyle|
|Based on||Looney Tunes|
by Warner Bros.
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$68.5 million|
Looney Tunes: Back in Action is a 2003 American live-action/animated comedy film directed by Joe Dante and written by Larry Doyle. The plot follows the Looney Tunes characters Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny as they help aspiring daredevil Damian "D.J." Drake, Jr. and Warner Bros. executive Kate Houghton find the "blue monkey" diamond, to prevent the evil Mr. Chairman of the Acme Corporation from using it to turn mankind into monkeys that will manufacture his products; the group also attempts to rescue D.J.'s father, an actor and spy who has been captured by Mr. Chairman. The animation was directed by Eric Goldberg. It was made following the success of Space Jam (1996), to which it was originally developed as a sequel, titled Spy Jam.
The film was theatrically released in the United States on November 14, 2003, by Warner Bros. Pictures and was a box-office flop, grossing $68.5 million worldwide against an $80 million budget. It received mixed reviews from critics, who praised its sense of fun but criticized the screenplay.
This was the final film to be scored by composer Jerry Goldsmith, who died less than a year after the film's release. This was also the final film to be produced by Warner Bros. Feature Animation. Along with this, it was also the last theatrically released feature film to prominently feature the Looney Tunes characters until 2021's Space Jam: A New Legacy.
Weary of playing villainous roles in Bugs Bunny's cartoons, Daffy Duck demands his own cartoon from Warner Bros., but instead is fired by "Vice President of Comedy" Kate Houghton. Security guard and struggling stuntman DJ Drake is asked to escort Daffy off the studio lot; in the ensuing chase, a Batmobile demolishes the studio water tower, and DJ is also fired. With Daffy close behind, DJ returns home; he receives a message from his father, film star Damian Drake, who is an undercover secret agent. Damian instructs his son to travel to Las Vegas, contact his associate Dusty Tails, and find a mystical diamond called the "blue monkey". Afterwards, Damien is captured by the Acme Corporation, led by the eccentric Mr. Chairman. DJ and Daffy leave for Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Bugs' routines fail without Daffy. Kate realizes she must find and rehire Daffy, or face being fired by her own superiors. Bugs informs Kate of the situation; they head to DJ's home, find Damian's spy car, and use it to pursue DJ and Daffy. In Las Vegas, DJ and Daffy meet Dusty in a casino owned by Yosemite Sam, who happens to be an associate of the Acme Corporation. Dusty gives them a strange playing card, which is a clue to finding the diamond. Sam and his henchmen attack them for the card, but DJ and Daffy flee in the spy car with Bugs and Kate. The flying car crashes in the Great Basin Desert, where Wile E. Coyote tries to stop the group and get the card, but is foiled.
The group eventually stumbles upon Area 52, run by a woman called 'Mother'. She plays a video recording for them, which reveals that the Blue Monkey has the power to devolve humans into monkeys, and evolve them back again. Marvin the Martian, who was imprisoned in the facility, leads a group of fellow aliens in an attempt to get the card, but DJ's group escapes. Seeing that the card has Mona Lisa's face on it, the group conclude they must view the painting in the Louvre, located in Paris.
At the Louvre, they discover that the card contains a viewing window; when one looks at the Mona Lisa through it, one can see a map of Africa hidden beneath. Bugs and Daffy's co-star, Elmer Fudd, appears, reveals himself as an Acme henchman, and chases Bugs and Daffy in and out of paintings to obtain the card. Meanwhile, Kate is kidnapped by Beaky Buzzard and Smith, Mr. Chairman's bodyguard. DJ rescues Kate, and Elmer disintegrates into tiny dots after jumping through A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
DJ, Kate, Bugs, and Daffy travel to Africa, meeting Granny, Sylvester, and Tweety, who escort them to the ruins of a jungle temple where they find the blue monkey. However, Granny and company reveal themselves to be Mr. Chairman, Smith, and the Tasmanian Devil in disguise. Mr. Chairman uses a disintegration gun to teleport everybody to the Acme headquarters, and promises to release Damien if DJ gives him the blue diamond. However, he reneges once he has the diamond.
Marvin is sent to place the blue monkey in an Acme satellite's ray gun; with it, Mr. Chairman plans to turn the entire human population (except himself) to monkeys to make his products, then back to humans again to buy them. DJ and Kate rescue Damian from a death trap, whilst Bugs and Daffy chase Marvin into space. Bugs is thwarted by Marvin, prompting Daffy to become Duck Dodgers in order to destroy the blue monkey. Mr. Chairman is the only one transformed into a monkey, and is arrested. Bugs and Daffy return to Earth, where Daffy discovers the whole adventure was staged to make a film; however, Bugs promises Daffy they will be equal partners. Daffy is then crushed by the Looney Tunes iris. Porky Pig attempts to close the film with "That's all, folks!", but the studio shuts down first, and he tells the audience to leave.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action was initially developed as a follow-up to Space Jam (1996). As development began, the film's plot was going to involve a new basketball competition with Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes against a new alien villain named Berserk-O!. Artist Bob Camp was tasked with designing Berserk-O! and his henchmen. Joe Pytka would have returned to direct and Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone signed on as the animation supervisors. However, Jordan did not agree to star in a sequel. According to Camp, a producer lied to the studio, claiming that Jordan had signed on in order to keep development going. Without Jordan involved with the project, Warner Bros. was uninterested, and cancelled plans for Space Jam 2.
The film then re-entered development as Spy Jam and was to star Jackie Chan. Warner Bros. was also planning a film titled Race Jam, which would have starred racing driver Jeff Gordon. Both projects were ultimately cancelled. Warner Bros. eventually asked Joe Dante to direct Back in Action. In the early 1990s, Dante wanted to produce a biographical comedy with HBO, called Termite Terrace. It centered around director filmmaker and cartoonist Chuck Jones' early years at Warner Bros. in the 1930s. On the project, Dante recalled, "It was a hilarious story and it was very good except that Warner Bros. said, 'Look, it's an old story. It's got period stuff in it. We don't want that. We want to rebrand our characters and we want to do Space Jam.'"
Dante agreed to direct Back in Action as tribute to Jones. He and screenwriter Larry Doyle reportedly wanted the film to be the "anti-Space Jam" as Dante disliked how that film represented the Looney Tunes brand and personalities. Dante said, "I was making a movie for them with those characters [Looney Tunes: Back in Action] and they did not want to know about those characters. They didn't want to know why Bugs Bunny shouldn't do hip-hop. It was a pretty grim experience all around." Warner Bros. hired Walt Disney Feature Animation's Eric Goldberg, most known for his fast-paced, Warner Bros.-inspired animation of the Genie in Aladdin (1992), to direct the animation.
On the film, Dante stated, "It's a gagfest. Not having a particularly strong story, it just goes from gag to gag and location to location. It's not a particularly compelling narrative, but, of course, that's not where the charm of the movie is supposed to lie." On the subject of filming, Dante stated that each scene with animated characters would be shot three times; first a rehearsal with a fake stuffed stand-in, then with nothing in the frame, and lastly, with a "mirror ball" in the shot to indicate to the computers where the light sources were. Afterwards, the animators would start their work and put the characters in the frame. According to Dante, a "problem" occurred when the studio executives grew tired of the film's jokes and wanted them to be changed. As a result, the studio brought in twenty-five gag writers to try to write jokes that were short enough to fit into an animated character's mouth. Despite this, the film has only one credited writer.
Despite being directed by acknowledged fans of the original cartoons, Dante stated that he had no creative freedom on the project, and called it "the longest year and a half of my life." Dante felt that he and Goldberg managed to preserve the original personalities of the characters. However, the opening, middle, and end of the film are different from what Dante envisioned.
This was the final film scored by composer Jerry Goldsmith. Due to Goldsmith's failing health, the last reel of the film was actually scored by John Debney, though Goldsmith was the only credited composer in marketing materials and the Varèse Sarabande soundtrack album only contains Goldsmith's music (although the first and last cues are adaptations of compositions heard in Warner Bros. cartoons). Debney receives an "Additional Music by" credit in the closing titles of the film and "Special Thanks" in the soundtrack album credits. Goldsmith died in July 2004, eight months after the film's release.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action was released on November 14, 2003, originally planned to open earlier that summer. The film grossed $68.5 million worldwide against a budget of $80 million.
Warner Bros. was hoping to start a revitalized franchise of Looney Tunes media and products with the success of Back in Action. New animated shorts and a Duck Dodgers TV series were commissioned to tie-in with Back in Action. However, due to the film's financial failure, the Looney Tunes franchise remained primarily on television for nearly two decades. Warner Bros. would not produce another theatrical Looney Tunes film until Space Jam: A New Legacy, which was released in 2021.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 57% based on 138 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "The plot is a nonsensical, hyperactive jumble and the gags are relatively uninspired compared to the classic Looney Tunes cartoons." At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score a 64 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews" Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Chicago Sun-Times critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper gave the film "Two Thumbs Up"; Roeper called it a "cheerful and self-referential romp blending animation with live action in a non-stop quest for silly laughs," while Ebert called it "goofy fun."
The film was also nominated for Saturn Award for Best Animated Film, Annie Award for Best Animated Feature and Satellite Award for Best Animated or Mixed Media Feature.
Warner Home Video released Looney Tunes: Back in Action on VHS and DVD on March 2, 2004. The film was re-released on DVD in separate widescreen and full screen editions on September 7, 2010. It was also released on Blu-ray with bonus features on December 2, 2014. A double DVD and Blu-ray release, paired with Space Jam, was released on June 7, 2016.
Main article: Looney Tunes: Back in Action (video game)
The film has a platform game of the same name developed by Warthog Games and published by Electronic Arts for the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Game Boy Advance. Xbox and Microsoft Windows versions were planned, but were cancelled due to the financial failure of the film.